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Richard M. Brown, president and chief executive officer of the California Angels, is sharing an apple with his parrot, Yogi, in their tastefully appointed office at the team's new spring-training headquarters, in Tempe, Ariz. Brown is resplendent in a red-and-blue jogging costume emblazoned with the Angels' new logo (an interlocking C and A). Yogi, perched on the limbs of an ersatz fig tree beside Brown's desk, is more conservatively plumed in executive gray. For the moment, at least, Brown is doing all the talking. Yogi interrupts him only to squawk for more apple.
"When I took this job in November 1990, it was with the understanding that this team would be built from within," Brown says, handing up another slice to his feathered confederate. "That is the only way a team creates chemistry and continuity. In the past we've been inconsistent in this regard. We traded for talent. We went after free agents. We used the farm system. We had a payroll of $35 million to $40 million, and we had mediocre teams.
"But now we've made a commitment to building the right way, with young players. And we have some of the best, both from last year and now, with players like Tim Salmon and J.T. Snow. Six of our eight position players will have had two years of experience or less, yet I can assure you the 1993 Angels will be a much better team than the 1992 Angels were. These youngsters have so much enthusiasm you can feel it."
"That's correct," says the parrot, finally entering the conversation.
Brown regards him with obvious pride. "Yogi may not always agree with me," he says, "but at least he has the common sense not to say so."
"I love you," says Yogi.
The bird's affection for the CEO was not wholeheartedly shared by the Southern California baseball community this winter. In fact, when the Angels traded star pitcher Jim Abbott to the New York Yankees in December for three unproven prospects—Snow, a first baseman, and pitchers Russ Springer and Jerry Nielsen—Brown was vilified by fans and the press alike for having cast off the team's most popular player. "We received a great deal of negative publicity," says Brown.
Had the Abbott deal been the only controversial move of the off-season, the turbulence might have subsided in time. But California let another popular pitcher, closer Bryan Harvey, slip away to the Florida Marlins in the expansion draft. Then the Angels acquired third baseman Kelly Gruber in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, only to discover that he had a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder.
Abbott was the big loss, acknowledges Angel vice-president Whitey Herzog. "But we offered him $16 million for four years, and we couldn't sign him," Herzog says. "If you can't sign a player after four years on your ball club, you better move him before he gets to free agency. And we got three guys for him that the Yankees had protected in the expansion draft. I tell you, if those three can't play, I'll be on the next plane back to St. Louis."
Springer, 24, was 8-5 and had a 2.69 ERA in 20 starts for Triple A Columbus in 1992, when he also pitched briefly for the Yankees. He is ticketed to be California's fourth or fifth starter. Nielsen, a 26-year-old lefthander who was 3-5 with a 1.19 ERA at Double A Albany, should see specialized duty out of the bullpen. The real pressure, however, will fall on the 25-year-old Snow, who was the principal player in the Abbott transaction.